Get Out of the Car » Ann Arbor Film Festival

Get Out of the Car

(Thom Andersen, 2010, 35 min)

Get Out of the Car is a response to my last movie, Los Angeles Plays Itself.  [...] It began as simply a study of weather-worn billboards around Los Angeles. The title was Outdoor Advertising. I’ve loved these billboards with their abstract and semi-abstract patterns since I was a teen-ager, and I would sometimes take photographs of them, but I resisted the idea of putting the in a film because ‘it had been done,’ notably in still photographs by Walker Evans an Aaron Siskind. An interest in decayed signs had become a commonplace in contemporary art.

But it happened that there was one quite beautiful ruined billboard quite near my house that went unrepaired for many months. I drove by it at least once a week and its presence was becoming a reproach: ‘You cowardly fool, I won’t stay like this forever.’ So on Sunday, February 22, 2009, with my friend Madison Brookshire, I filmed it with his 16mm Bolex. For some months, when somebody asked about the film I was working on, I could simply say it was a film designed to destroy my reputation as a film-maker. 

[...] I only put in things I like (with one exception, which I will come back to later), beautiful or funny things that most people would overlook, things that I would probably overlook if I hadn’t been searching for them. It happened that many of these things were also outdoor advertisements, from custom-made neon signs to whimsical sculptures to mural-like paintings that cover the walls of restaurants, grocery stores, and auto repair shops.

Some are a bit enigmatic. What is a papier-mâché horse doing on the roof of a motel? Why is a giant hot dog sculpture with white bricks as pickle relish sitting on top of a Thai Town Express restaurant? And the grotesque sculpture of a monkey dressed up as a baker outside Nicho’s Pizza on Florence Avenue? ‘You got to do something to compete with Domino’s and Pizza Hut,’ the owner explained. But I think he just likes animal figures. On top of his insurance offices next door, he has a giant helium elephant, which we were tempted to film.

But what about an elaborate neon sign outlining a round face in half-profile with a yellow clothespin attached to the nose and three blue teardrops below the right eye? It’s the logo of Twohey’s, a restaurant founded in 1943 along Route 66. Twohey’s featured dish is the Stinko Burger, which is nothing more than a hamburger with sliced pickles and onions. Proprietor Jack Twohey overheard a woman exclaim, ‘Oh, stinko,’ when one was served to a customer sitting next to her, and he decided to take advantage of her remark. 

[...] Get Out of the Car could be characterized as a nostalgic film. It is a celebration of artisanal culture and termite art (in Manny Farber’s sense, but more precisely in the sense Dave Marsh gives the phrase in his book Louie Louie). But I would claim it’s not a useless and reactionary feeling of nostalgia, but rather a militant nostalgia. Change the past, it needs it. Remember the words of Walter Benjamin I quote in the film: even the dead will not be safe. Restore what can be restored, like the Watts Towers. Rebuild what must be rebuilt. Re-abolish capital punishment. Remember the injustices done to Chinese, Japanese, blacks, gays, Mexicans, Chicanos, and make it right. Put Richard Berry, Maxwell Davis, Hunter Hancock, Art Laboe, and Big Jay McNeely in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. Bring back South Central Farm. Only when these struggles are fought and won can we begin to create the future. 

[...] In any case, like everyone else, I try to make movies I would like to see, and then hope there are others who share my sensibilities. The greater their number, the better, but fewer is also okay. For me, movies are, first of all, ‘tools for conviviality,’ to borrow a phrase from Ivan Illich, a means of sharing images and ideas to create a circle of friends, or virtual friends. The size of the circle is less important than the intensity of the bonds among them. For these aspirations, originality doesn’t matter much.  -Thom Andersen

(from "Get Out of the Car: A Commentary." Filmmaker Magazine

This excerpt edited and published by Cinema Project (Portland) March 2013.

Filmmaker in Attendance, 16mm

Directed by Thom Andersen


Wednesday, March 26 9:15pm

Thom Andersen: Films 1964–2014

The first of a five program complete retrospective of the work of Los Angeles based filmmaker Thom Andersen. This program will feature six short films, featuring newly restored prints of

Michigan Theater (Screening Room)